HONG KONG's resident engineers appear to have won a row with the government over planned cuts in salary benefits.
An agreement was thrashed out last week between secretary for works Lee Shing-see and engineers' representatives, including legislator Dr Raymond Ho Chung-tai, to reinstate benefits for resident engineers who sign new contracts within three months of completing their old one.
But the deal needs approval from the Finance Bureau. Dr Ho is still pushing the government to extend the break clause to six months and for the agreement also to apply to Hong Kong's two rail companies - the KowloonCanton Railway Corporation and the Mass Transit Railway Corporation.
While salary levels - varying between about £3,560 and £5,900 a month - were to remain the same, housing allowances, education and other benefits were to be cut completely. This would have resulted in a salary drop of up to 70%, engineers said.
The government's plans had also threatened to jeopardise site supervision standards at a time when it is coming under increasing pressure to improve construction quality. This follows a series of piling scandals which has seen more than 30 construction staff either jailed or charged with corruption related offences.
Dr Ho said: 'The government doesn't seem to be going in the right direction - cutting down on the incentives to go out on site while trying to improve construction quality.'
The situation has also caused a recruitment crisis on some public works projects. On the Penny's Bay reclamation, for example, candidates had been offered jobs for nine resident engineer posts. But once the new salary packages were offered, seven immediately withdrew.
Meanwhile, consultants have virtually frozen recruitment of REs for public works projects until a final agreement is reached.
Engineers have formed the Consulting Engineering Firms Resident Site Staff Association.
With support from the Association of Consulting Engineers (HK) and the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, it is leading negotiations with government.
Stephen Man, chairman of the resident site staff association, said the mood of fellow REs had become increasingly militant over the last couple of weeks.
But he added: 'Everything has changed in the past few days.'